Getting Clear

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The weather has finally turned cold. I went for a short walk yesterday afternoon, just before 4 p.m. The sun was already in its descent. I smelled wood smoke from the neighborhoods around me. A low-lying fog hung in the middle air, causing light obscurity. The temperature hung just above freezing. I wanted to celebrate getting out into the shortest day of the year. Not only because, according to the Mayan calendar craze of 2012, we shouldn’t even be here at all. I simply needed to get outside.

Same with this morning. I needed to run and clear my head. The gravel under my feet sparkled with frost and gave off extra crunch wherever I stepped. I left the pepper spray at home. I knew I wouldn’t see anyone out and about on this sub-freezing morning. Okay, I did see one guy running on the other side of the street. He wore an orange ski cap and shorts as part of his ensemble. Bet his kneecaps were blue.

I ran along the flat streets and considered the state of my life. Things are still churning at work, though less violently. The new normal is emerging. Frankly, I am not a fan of some of it. At all. I might even have had a bratty attitude  heated discussion  or two about it. Not proud moments, any of them.

But sometimes we have to do things we don’t like. It’s call being an adult. I am a fan of that, because that’s maturity. Don’t we love hanging out with those people, whom we call grown ups? They make unloading the dishwasher or matching socks a fun game. Their life’s joy runs on, untethered from inevitable quirky and tedious circumstances.  Mature people grease the wheels of this life with their love and kindness. I want to be the person who does unpleasant, onerous tasks without whining or complaining. Suffice it to say I’m still working on it. Have no fear, dear readers. Jesus isn’t finished with me yet.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.– Philippians 2:14-15

 

 

 

Little by Little

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Anticipation hovers in the air as Christmas approaches. The days grow shorter. The sun dies around 4:30 every day, leaving burnt ribbons of light on the horizon. The rest of the time, the sky stays gray. But what hit me this year is that lots of trees and plants stay green. Heck, evergreens surround us – cedar, Douglas fir, Ponderosa Pine, hemlock. It’s so easy to focus on the dismal. Why not gaze on the vibrant that remains?

I guess it’s like how we age. I’ve got gray hairs marching onto my head on a minute-by-minute basis, despite Clairol’s tricks. Wrinkles congregate on my forehead and at the corners of my eyes and mouth. Certain body parts are, ahem, migrating south permanently, probably to Florida.

What’s a girl – or boy -to do in the face of inevitable change? Well, celebrate who you are, of course, aside from your physical attributes.  This earthly body will pass away. Take care of yourself with kindness, and make the most of your good features. Remember you are fearfully and wonderfully made, no matter what the mirror says. And be thankful. Because nothing makes a person more beautiful than pure joy and gratitude.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8

July Thanksgiving

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I ran 3 miles out in the cool the other day. It had rained the night before, so the air blew fresh on me. The moon played peekaboo with the thick, shifting clouds. I felt good, despite a full workout at kettlebells the night before. I moved along, strong but loose. I could have run forever.

My mind, ever agile, strayed ahead to work and the weekend. I couldn’t keep thinking about nothing, could I?! I find it hard to stay in the moment. I’m always in the next moment, or the one after that. Or even into next week. Mindfulness, or being in the moment, they call it. I lack it. We talk about it writer’s group all the time. It all comes down to enjoying where you are and when you are.

I think Paul nailed it when he said:

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13

I’m still learning to be present. However, I’m almost always grateful for mornings. I’m glad about new beginnings every day. I’m content with and celebrate the numerous blessings of this life.

Friday Sandwich

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I ran 3 miles this morning in the cool yet humid air. The sky threatened rain at any moment. I tried to talk myself out of the distance but did it anyway. I’m working towards a mileage goal for the week. Two miles tomorrow, and I’ll have it.

I’ve been meditating on this scripture lately – Proverbs 10:22. A good friend of mine gave it to me months ago when I asked her to pray about us moving and all.

Proverbs 10:22 – The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.

I had lunch with a different friend and I mentioned it. I told her about the scripture.

“You know, the one from Proverbs that says ‘The blessing of the Lord….'” I trailed off. And I completely blanked. I shook my head. Really? Granted, often I find Proverbs a dusty book, but still.

She looked at me, waiting, her lips quirked up.

“The blessing of the Lord…blah blah blah…?” she queried. Her eyes sparkled with mirth.

I had to laugh. Someone had taken the time to give me confirmation of our dreams and I hadn’t taken the time to actually *look* up the reference. Sigh.

I can see God’s blessing on our lives. We’ve got a couple of great kids and live in a nice town. Our church lets us serve in ways we love. Jonathon and I have good jobs with great people. Financially, we’re doing well. We have limited debt. We can live within our means. We can give as opportunities arise. We’re already rich in so many ways.

This verse out of Proverbs has helped me stay the course. Living in the middle of renovation and working full-tilt throughout makes for weary folks. I’ll admit,  I questioned all of this. I couldn’t see the end. Would we recoup our investment? Did we do the right thing? Would it ever end?

Yes, it will. Because God planned this from start to finish. He never leaves us halfway.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. –  Philippians 1:6

Those two verses together make something that resembles a faith sandwich. The blessing of the Lord initiated this work, and the Lord will finish it. The verses apply to the house circumstances as well as running. Can’t give up now. I need to take a big bite out of that reality today.

Seventeen Days

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Nothing to do with the magazine.

I’m seventeen days into the running streak. I’ve got 19 days to go. Almost halfway. Truth be told, I’d like to continue it while on our vacation. The vacation goes from June 30 to July 15. I think it would help me be nice (ha!) while far away from home, familiar and control of circumstances.

I did not want to get up today. My body pleaded, “You don’t need to run. Sleeping is good. We did kettlebells last night. Remember? We did the card workout. Our legs already hurt. We’re middle-aged, after all. And let’s not even talk about our back…”

But,  I remembered this: I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:27.

I got up. I turned off the “I can’ts”. Just one mile, I coaxed myself. Start there and see what happens. I ran three very ugly miles. Box checked. Yes, I still think checked boxes are sexy. Don’t hate me.

Discipline gets a bad rap. Every action, friends, starts in the mind. The Bible has lots to say about the battlefield of the mind. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (taking thoughts captive), Romans 12:2 (renewing our minds), and one of my personal favorites, Philippians 4:8: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 

It’s taken me awhile to realize the correlation between thoughts and actions. Okay, it’s all over the Bible, and in the news daily, but I didn’t want to believe it. I don’t think I wanted to be held responsible for the way my thoughts repurposed themselves as deeds. I tried to dodge that particular, ahem, discipline. I mean, I’m an American, right? Don’t fence me in. I love my freedom of speech, religion, right to assemble peaceably. Let’s not forget the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those few tenets form the backbone of the gospel of the U.S. of A, I find.

No one else can reign in my thoughts. That’s my job. One of the great benefits of us as free will creatures is the amazing complexity and beauty of our thoughts. As humans, we carry within us the God-given ability to dream and create amazing things. Yet with all the darling schemes we conjure up, some still prove to be stinkers. Let’s yank the ugly thoughts out. They will only yield pain and disappointment to us and those around us. Let’s cultivate a discipline of good thoughts. They will yield a crop of encouraging words, healthy actions and a fruitful life.

 

 

 

Monday on a Saturday

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I got called into work on Saturday. I was pulling out ingredients to make “the best chocolate cake ever” when I saw I had missed a call. My coworker, John (not his real name) also left me a message.

“Susan, can you call me when you get this? Fuel pump number 2 is locked out. The cops need to get gas and I don’t know how to get into your computer. I need your password to get to the fuel system.”

You should probably know I spent five hours – count ’em – fighting with the fuel management system on Friday on creating driver cards. See, there’s no manual. Only a couple of cryptic, handwritten instructions to work with a DOS-based program. The five hours consisted of trial and error and observation. I prayed a lot. I also considered defenestration, as I have a large observation window. Or possibly a small bomb. Either-or.

Anyway.

I called John back.

“My passoword is redvines, all one word.”

Hey, when you can’t eat sweets, you gotta do something.

It didn’t work. He tried it again. No dice. I realized I would need to make a personal visit. The fuel system, ProComm, lives in my profile. I had to reenable the pump somehow. When I got John’s call, my heart sank. I didn’t want to go back in. I wanted to make a rockin’ chocolate cake. But I couldn’t let him suffer.

I drove the 1/3 mile to the shop. I came upstairs and sat at the computer.

“I’m so sorry you had to come in,” John said. He looked sheepish.

“No worries,” I said. “How many times have you helped me?”

I typed in redvines. Then again. Then I remembered I had changed my password, at the computer’s request, on Friday afternoon. Awesome.

I logged in to the system. John found the instructions. Type c, enter, c, enter, then 2. Then enter. Then…6 more questions I had no answers to. So, I did it different ways. John would go down to the pump and insert his personal identification card. The pump did nothing. He’d trot back up the stairs to tell me. I’d hit enter all the way through the questions. He’d job down to the bleepity pump and again and try his luck. Nothing. We did this several times. Then I got the brilliant idea of unplugging the Petrovend brain from the printer. Which made it stop working entirely. I couldn’t go anywhere in the program and the lights were out on the brain.

Awesome.

“At this point, I’m reminding myself of the scripture ‘rejoice, for the steps of a righteous person are ordered of God,” I told my Christian coworker.

John, under the printer and looking at the unresponsible cable, said, “I’m thinking of Philippians 4:13:  ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’.”

“And ‘all things work together for good’,” I finished with.

We kept on. We got nowhere.I tried to get service online from a specialist named Todd, who referred me to an 800 number that didn’t work on weekends. That episode earned him a 2-star rating. We made a call to a live service person who didn’t know what to tell us. John even took the back of the pump apart, something I never would have considered. Hitting the reset button garnered no change. Eventually, we realized the pump had probably died. Given up the ghost. Cacked. Gone to the gas station in the sky. In its defense, it’s middle-aged. Not that all middle-aged things are worthy of death, of course, but machines don’t last forever.

Neither do working Saturdays. After speaking to our boss, John locked out and tagged the pump. The police got a credit card and went to regular gas stations to meet their fueling needs.

Between Friday which bled into Saturday, I had to trust that God was ordering my steps. Nothing went the way I planned. I don’t like plans blowing up. But I’m not in control. And really, that’s how it should be.

 

 

Unstoppable

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Jonathon and I had a conversation the other night that has been niggling me ever since. We had just watched Big Hero 6 and somehow we got onto this topic. In Big Hero 6, Hiro, the main character, turns his brainy friends into superheros.  He plays up their strengths. Their abilities, like laser hands and super speed on wheels, stem from their interests and abilities. Hiro doesn’t try to change his friends; he works with their passions. We started discussing how we handle compliments.

“I don’t think people have an agenda or angle when they compliment me,” I said. “But I always filter them.”

He thought that strange.

“Why?”

It stumped me momentarily. Well, any woman can tell you why.  Because, deep down, we don’t believe we’re that fabulous.  Someone out there, in our circle of acquaintance or beyond, has nicer hair or prettier eyes or a smaller waist or whatever. We know better.  At least, we think we do. Besides, to admit our own awesomeness would be prideful.  Right?

Jonathon understood.

“But what if we truly took compliments at face value. We believed what people said about us, as is, no questions asked.  The good things, of course. What then?”

He paused.

“Wouldn’t we be unstoppable?”

I thought about Ruby.  Ruby believes me when I tell her she’s beautiful. She knows she’s smart and funny and creative, all that plus a thousand other things. Because she holds onto those good things, she has very few hang-ups. Does she keep her room clean?  No. But that’s another issue.

It hit me. Yes. We would be unstoppable. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself running and running and not wearing out. I thought of all the things I love to do – singing, writing, baking, encouraging others – all at peak capacity.

He went on. “We can’t be doing the Father’s business if we’re so busy beating ourselves up for our faults.”

The friends in Big Hero 6 succeeded as a team because they used their strengths and worked together. They didn’t try to do or be something they weren’t and they didn’t compete with each other. I know this isn’t a new idea from me, but the perspective shift to what can I bring to the table, is new.

So right here and now, I want to say thanks for the compliments over the years.  Some have come to me in person and some online. I appreciate it.  I’m gonna start holding onto them. I may even write them down. Our words have great power, to build up and to tear down.  I want to keep the edifying ones.

If we truly loved ourselves, warts and all, what then?

Look out.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8